Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis. A Guide for Patients and Families

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1 Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis A Guide for Patients and Families

2 ABOUT ASCO Founded in 1964, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is the world s leading professional organization representing physicians who care for people with cancer. With nearly 35,000 members, ASCO is committed to improving cancer care through scientific meetings, educational programs, and peer-reviewed journals. ASCO is supported by its affiliate organization, the Conquer Cancer Foundation, which funds groundbreaking research and programs that make a tangible difference in the lives of people with cancer. ABOUT CANCER.NET The best cancer care starts with the best cancer information. Well-informed patients are their own best advocates and invaluable partners for physicians. Cancer.Net ( brings the expertise and resources of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the voice of the world s cancer physicians, to people living with cancer and to those who care for and about them. All the information and content on Cancer.Net was developed and approved by the cancer doctors who are members of ASCO, making Cancer.Net an up-to-date and trusted resource for cancer information on the Internet. Cancer.Net is supported by the Conquer Cancer Foundation, which provides funding for breakthrough cancer research, professional education, and patient and family support. ASCO patient education programs are supported by:

3 Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis Table of Contents Introduction 4 Ways to Lose and Manage Weight 6 Lifestyle changes 7 Weight loss drugs 8 Weight loss surgery 8 Common Challenges to Losing and Maintaining Weight 10 Talking with Your Doctor About Weight 13 Resources to Help Manage Your Weight 14 The ideas and opinions expressed in the Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis booklet do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASCO or the Conquer Cancer Foundation. The information in this guide is not intended as medical or legal advice, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or other licensed health care provider. Patients with health-related questions should call or see their physician or other health care provider promptly, and should not disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking it, because of information encountered in this booklet. The mention of any product, service, or treatment in this guide should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement. ASCO is not responsible for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of ASCO s patient education materials, or to any errors or omissions. Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis 3

4 Introduction More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, which makes it an important topic for people with cancer and cancer survivors. When a person is overweight or obese, it means that they have too much body fat in relation to lean body tissue, such as muscle. A combination of many factors causes people to become overweight or obese, including genetic, hormonal, environmental, emotional, and cultural factors. Although many patients want to lose weight or make other healthier lifestyle changes after a cancer diagnosis, others may feel that making changes in their health habits is too difficult. Some people may be discouraged after trying to control their weight for many years before being diagnosed with cancer. However, discussing weight with your doctor or another member of your health care team is an important step in managing your health during and after cancer, no matter your size. It is never too late to take steps to improve your health whether you were overweight or obese before cancer or gained weight or lost muscle during or after treatment. Increasing physical activity and lowering your weight, if you are overweight or obese, have many benefits for cancer survivors and could even be linked to a lower risk of the cancer returning or of developing a new cancer. These steps can also help you improve or avoid other weight-related conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. This booklet provides basic information for people with cancer and cancer survivors on managing weight, addresses some of the emotional challenges that come with making healthy lifestyle changes, and provides resources that can help. 4 Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis

5 WEIGHT CHANGES DURING CANCER TREATMENT When most people think about side effects of cancer treatment, they think about weight loss as one of those side effects. In fact, many patients will gain weight during or after treatment. They may experience other body changes as well, such as gain of body fat and loss of muscle. Weight gain is most common in patients receiving chemotherapy, but patients who receive surgery or hormone therapy can gain weight after a cancer diagnosis. The reasons that people gain weight during treatment are not completely understood. Some treatments can make people more tired, so that they exercise less. Other treatments may increase appetite or lower metabolism. Learn more about weight gain as a side effect of cancer at sideeffects. Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis 5

6 Ways to Lose and Manage Weight The best time to start a weight loss program or focus on making healthy lifestyle changes varies for each person. For some, a cancer diagnosis may spur them to focus on their health beyond cancer, encouraging them to eat healthier and increase activity. For others, addressing weight and physical activity during or immediately after treatment is just too much to take on. When many people are diagnosed with cancer, they become active participants in managing their health learning about the cancer, the treatment options, and the possible side effects and how to cope with them. Consider using the same approach to make diet and activity changes when you are ready. The first step is to talk with your doctor. Your doctor can calculate your body mass index (BMI; see page 9) and evaluate your overall health and fitness level to find out if you would 6 Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis

7 benefit from losing weight or making lifestyle changes to maintain your current weight. The methods to help people with cancer manage weight are the same for people who do not have cancer. However, there may be special considerations for people currently receiving cancer treatment, as well as for cancer survivors. Lifestyle changes Reducing the calories you eat and drink and increasing physical activity are the main ways to manage or lose weight. Nutrition. Managing what and how much you eat and drink are important steps in avoiding unnecessary weight gain and losing weight. This means that those who are looking to maintain their weight eat about the same amount of calories that their body needs to function throughout the day. For those who are looking to lose weight, it means eating fewer calories than their body needs. Lowering calories as part of a weight loss program is generally safe for most cancer survivors who need to lose weight. A dietitian can help you learn how to successfully reduce calories. Physical activity. While exercising may be the last thing on your mind during cancer treatment, starting or continuing aerobic and strength exercises during treatment can improve your quality of life, help reduce fatigue, lessen muscle loss, and prevent the gain of body fat. Participating in exercise and being physically active is considered safe for most people during and after cancer treatment. However, if you have recently received or are receiving cancer treatments that put you at a higher risk for infection, such as a stem cell/ bone marrow transplant, you should avoid community gyms and fitness centers until your immune system has a chance to return to full strength. Talk with your doctor or another member of your health care team about the level and types of physical activity best for you. You may benefit from working with a physical therapist or exercise specialist, particularly if you have a higher risk of injury due to the Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis 7

8 cancer, its treatment, or other health conditions. These professionals can find the best ways for you to increase or maintain your physical functioning. Behavior change support. For many, being overweight or obese is more complex than simply eating too much and exercising too little. It s important to get support when you are trying to lose weight. Most weight loss programs include more than one session with a dietitian or weight loss specialist to help you make healthy lifestyle changes and stick with them over time. Weight loss drugs There is no research showing whether the weight loss drugs that are currently available and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are safe for cancer survivors. They are usually only recommended when a combination of diet, exercise, and behavior change support have not worked or if you have other serious health conditions from being obese. To find out if weight loss drugs are an option for you, talk with your health care team about the risks, benefits, and costs. Weight loss surgery Weight loss surgery, or bariatric surgery, is a term for a variety of procedures that make a person s stomach smaller. This may be an option if you have a BMI of 40 or higher, or if you have a BMI of 35 or higher and have another serious health condition related to obesity. It s important to remember that these procedures are major surgery and carry risks. In addition, because a person s stomach is smaller after surgery, it still requires long-term lifestyle changes. Usually, counseling is provided to help people understand how their eating and drinking habits will need to change after surgery. 8 Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis

9 WHAT IS BMI? Obesity is often measured with body mass index (BMI), the ratio of a person's weight and height. A normal BMI is between 18.5 and A BMI between 25 and 29.5 is considered overweight, while a BMI of 30 or higher is obese. You can use the following chart by finding the height closest to yours on the left and following the line across to your approximate weight. BMI is listed at the top. NORMAL WEIGHT OVERWEIGHT OBESE BMI Height Body Weight (pounds) 4' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis 9

10 Common Challenges to Losing and Maintaining Weight Before being diagnosed with cancer, you may have already tried several ways to lose weight or increase physical activity and found the results discouraging. This section addresses common beliefs that may prevent people with cancer from pursuing a healthier lifestyle. I VE TRIED EVERYTHING AND JUST CAN T LOSE WEIGHT. Losing weight is challenging. Talk with your doctor about what methods you have already tried, even though it may be uncomfortable to discuss. You may feel you have failed because previous attempts to lose weight have not worked. You haven t failed; you just haven t found what works for you yet. Talking with your doctor or asking for a referral to a registered dietitian or a weight-loss group can help find the best method for you. Many people find it easier to lose weight if they have a structured program and support. BILL WIPPERT 10 Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis

11 I DON T REALLY WANT TO EXERCISE. Starting an exercise program may seem overwhelming, and cancer treatments can make you tired or cause changes in your mobility. However, participating in physical activity can actually improve your energy level. There are ways to make starting easier. First, pick an activity you enjoy. You re more likely to stick with activities you look forward to. It s important to remember that physical activity comes in many forms, such as walking, dancing, playing actively with your children or grandchildren, or gardening. Second, start small. If you have been very inactive, start with just 10 minutes a day and increase the time gradually. Third, don t do it alone. Participate in physical activity with your family or friends. Or, join an exercise group in your area. I M ALREADY STRESSED ABOUT DEALING WITH MY CANCER. Cancer is definitely stressful, partially because there are so many factors that are out of your control. Fortunately, physical activity lowers stress and improves the symptoms of anxiety and depression for many people. In addition, focusing on losing weight and exercising can add some feeling of control to your life. THE HARM HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE. It is never too late to improve your health. Many studies have shown that people who choose healthy foods and exercise regularly are at lower risk of having the cancer return or of developing a new cancer. In addition, changing to a healthier lifestyle reduces the risk of other medical problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, which may be more of a threat to your overall health than cancer. I ENJOY EATING AND DON T WANT TO CHANGE MY DIET. You can still enjoy the foods you love, but with more balance. For most people, there is no need to participate in an extremely restrictive diet plan. The goal is to eat fewer calories. Even small reductions or changes to what you eat and drink can help you lose weight slowly over time. Working with a dietitian can help you lose weight while eating the foods you enjoy. Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis 11

12 INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR WEIGHT LOSS Private Insurance As part of the Affordable Care Act, most private insurance companies provide coverage for obesity screening and counseling. These services currently need to be provided through a primary care doctor s office. Additionally, weight loss surgery is often covered by insurance for those who meet the criteria for the procedure. To learn more about the weight loss methods covered by your insurance, talk with your health insurance company or the staff at your doctor s office. Medicare Medicare may cover the following weight loss methods, depending on specific guidelines: Counseling for obesity provided in a primary care setting Medical nutrition therapy for patients with kidney disease or diabetes Weight loss surgery for patients who meet the criteria Medicare does not cover the services of an exercise therapist or trainer, physical exercise classes, or weight loss drugs. Learn more about coverage through Medicare at Medicaid Some state Medicaid programs may cover obesity treatment methods. Find out what s covered by your state s Medicaid plan at 12 Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis

13 Talking with Your Doctor About Weight Weight is a sensitive topic to bring up for many people. You may feel uncomfortable talking about it for a variety of reasons. Also, you may feel that you have more important things related to cancer and cancer recovery to discuss during your visits. However, weight is a factor used to manage and improve your health. Here are some questions you may want to ask a member of your health care team about your weight, whether it is affecting your health, and how you can improve your health through weight management and physical activity: What is my BMI? What does it mean? Would I benefit from losing weight? How is that determined? Is it safe for me to start a weight loss program or lower the number of calories I take in? What type of weight loss program do you recommend? Can you refer me to a registered dietitian who has experience working with people with cancer? How will exercise or increased physical activity improve my health? What type do you recommend? Are there any weight limitations or specific exercises I should avoid? Who can help me set up a safe exercise program? Where can I learn more about weight loss? Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis 13

14 Resources to Help Manage Your Weight The following organizations and websites offer information about obesity, healthy eating, and physical activity: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): ChooseMyPlate.gov Obesity Action Coalition National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Weight Control Information Network (WIN) RESOURCES FOR TRACKING FITNESS AND DIET USDA: SuperTracker In addition, there are numerous commercial websites and mobile applications available for tracking fitness and diet. These can be helpful for tracking weight, calories, and/or physical activity, but talk with your health care team before you follow any recommendations these applications offer. It s best to use these as a tool to help you follow the recommendations provided by your health care team. Search online or through the app store for your tablet or mobile device to find the best one for you. 14 Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis

15 LOCAL RESOURCES In addition, the following organizations can help you locate professionals in your area who specialize in nutrition and physical activity for people with cancer and cancer survivors. American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics LiveStrong at the YMCA Our-Actions/Programs-Partnerships/ LIVESTRONG-at-the-YMCA/LIVESTRONG-atthe-YMCA-Locations Or, ask about this program at your local YMCA: Obesity Society obs.memberclicks.net/clinician-directory American College of Sports Medicine Certification.acsm.org/pro-finder Use the space below to list other resources in your area. Managing Your Weight After a Cancer Diagnosis 15

16 American Society of Clinical Oncology 2318 Mill Road, Suite 800 Alexandria, VA Phone: Fax: For more information about ASCO s patient information resources, call toll-free or To order more copies of this booklet, call or visit American Society of Clinical Oncology. For permissions information, contact

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